It is normal for the new mom to feel anxious as her bundle of joy opens eyes in the world. The daily uphill task of looking after the family and child’s needs, and attending to themselves can take a toll on some mothers. In no time, the happy times turn into “baby blues.” In most cases, this postpartum anxiety goes away after some time, but some women may continue to experience stress, sadness and severe mood swings.
Baby blues are the most common postpartum emotions, affecting around 60–80 percent new mothers, as suggested by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It usually does not require medication and subsides within a few days. However, in up to 20 percent cases, baby blues or postpartum blues progress to postpartum depression (PPD) that can adversely affect cognitive growth of the newborn as well.
Postpartum depression is characterized by negative feelings that are more intense than the blues. These signs may include persistent sadness and crying, unable to find pleasure in things, loss of appetite, anxiety, inability to concentrate, low self-esteem and thoughts of harming oneself and the baby.
There are different theories explaining the occurrence of mental health problems after childbirth, including a previous history of anxiety disorders or depression, experiencing stress and stressful situations during pregnancy, worrying about providing good care to the newborn, and a history of traumatic relationship with the partner. However, a recent study has highlighted another possible predictor of stress and anxiety in mothers after childbirth.
Lifetime history of drug use may trigger postpartum anxiety
A recent research from the North Carolina State University and the University of British Columbia suggested an association between woman’s lifetime history of drug use and likelihood of developing stress and anxiety after childbirth. The study findings, published online in Archives of Women’s Mental Health in February 2017, was aimed at enquiring the role of lifetime drug and alcohol use in causing postpartum mental health problems.
The study was carried out on women within approximately three months after childbirth. They answered queries pertaining to mental health history, lifetime substance use and postpartum symptoms of anxiety, stress, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression.
Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor of psychology at the North Carolina State University, said, “Our study has two important findings that are relevant to that discussion. First, we found that women are at risk of significant postpartum mental health problems other than depression – stress and anxiety are serious issues that merit attention. Second, by incorporating questions about a woman’s history of drug use, we can help health-care providers more accurately identify women who are at risk of postpartum stress and anxiety – and take steps to provide the necessary care.”
Desmarais, who is also the co-author of the study, admitted that the most significant factor affecting the likelihood of postpartum mental health problems would be whether the woman had a history of mental health problems however, including a history of drug use increases the risk significantly.
The researchers also observed that prior studies have largely focused on drug use during pregnancy. But that is not a reliable means to assess the risk as many women do not admit to substance use during that time fearing social stigma, loss of parental custody, strained relations with partner or being forced to seek treatment.
The findings of the current study are important in the view that healthcare professionals can now predict the risk of developing mental health problems in moms-to-be and take preventive measures by screening women for lifetime drug use. The study has also clarified that the history of drug might increase the severity of symptoms of stress and anxiety after childbirth but it has no causal role in postpartum depression.
Early diagnosis improves treatment outcome
An estimated 15 out of 100 women are known to be suffering from depression in the first three months post-delivery. While about half of these women (or eight out of 100) are likely to develop mild or moderate depression and approximately seven out of 100 may experience severe depression. Therefore, to prevent the progression of initial anxiety to depression, it is significant to visit a mental health professional. Early diagnosis of baby blues and identification of the associated risk factors can help health care providers to prevent its progression to postpartum depression.
If you have noticed symptoms of postpartum anxiety or depression in any new mom who has also abused drugs in the past or continues to do so, the California Dual Diagnosis Helpline can help you with credible information on some of the best dual diagnosis treatment centers in California. Chat online or call 24/7 helpline 855-980-1736 to get information on various dual diagnosis treatment programs in California.